Tips for Fundraising in a Recession

Successful fundraising in a recessionA reporter interviewed me earlier this week for a story on fundraising in a recession. As a follow up, he asked if I had tips to give nonprofits. Here's what I wrote. I hope they're helpful!

  1. Keep Asking! Treat your donor like an adult and let her make the decision about whether this is a good time to give or not. Don’t try to make up her mind for her.
  2. Get the Facts: Studies have shown that Americans are very generous, even in economic downturns. In fact, giving has increased practically every year since World War II. People will be giving this year, why shouldn’t they have the opportunity to give to your organization?
  3. Keep Your Friends Close: Keeping existing donors is always more cost effective than finding new donors. Now is an especially great time to reach out to people who’ve given to you in the past but maybe not in the last year or two.
  4. Stay Upbeat: Fundraisers tend to be some of the most upbeat people around. They’ve found that people don’t give to pessimism. So work hard to be realistic but to also find the silver lining in any given situation.
  5. Admit to Donors that Times are Tough: Being upbeat doesn’t mean mindlessly attempting to “positive think” your way around difficulties. Being honest about difficulties—both those of the organization and those of the donor—can actually strengthen relationships.
  6. Be Flexible: Donors are facing varying degrees of economic uncertainty. Some may nee to extend their pledge commitments. Help them by being flexible.
  7. Don’t Beat Up Your Regular Donors: Resist the urge to beat up your donors with multiple panic-stricken year-end fundraising letters and emails. Focus on the impact your nonprofit is making in the community and ask them to invest continue being part of those great works. But don’t abuse them.
  8. Think Strategically: Economic downturns cause all of us to tighten our belts a bit. But before you do across the board cuts, look at what you’ve been investing in and determine if the cost is worth the results. At Inland, we made the startling discovery that cutting costs by reducing mailings actually resulted in a fundraising drop of 30%! This year they increased their mailings and raised as much in six months as they had in the entire previous year, despite the economic uncertainty. Spending extra money may yield tens of thousands of dollars more in donations.
  9. Keep Investing in Professional Development: Our organizations need us to keep being sharp and staying up with what is working in our career. Unfortunately, professional development is often one of the first things to be cut from a budget. There are lots of great fundraising seminars, podcasts, webinars, and blogs. Many of them are free and allow you to learn right at your desk.
  10. Be sure to Check Out Social Media: You need to have conversations where your donors are. Many of them may be on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. You should be too! These tools are free and can help you develop relationships with people already interested in your cause. They may even help you develop donors beyond your geographical limits too. Tools like Twitter or Qik can help you “attend” the fundraising seminars and confrences mentioned about without leaving your desk!

[For more ideas on using Twitter for fundraising, see Twitter for Nonprofits]

About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to


  1. Marc, you are now one of the blogs that I need to read as soon as it gets to me! Another amazing post and one I will print and keep handy. As I start the plan for Wausau Whitewater 2009, I will use these tips. When you are representing a recreation, arts, or other non-essential non-profit, you have to remain aware of the basic needs that will come first in the minds of many donors. But at the same time, as one corporate Sales Manager told me last week, the recreational, arts, and events type of organizations are the ones that drive people to visit and move to a community. They keep the economy going by creating interesting events, training, or just opportunities that people want to visit. Some corporate donors realize this, others have to be told through your story-telling tip of yesterday.

  2. Ah, Julie, you say the nicest things!!

    I totally agree about the recreational/arts/events type organizations. It's hard enough recruiting physicians to our hospital as it is, but if we didn't have those kinds of groups in town, we'd be sunk!

  3. Marc, As I've told Jason Alba, I naturally thank people who help me. I never flatter. I only say what I think because there is too little appreciation out there in the world these days. I am sure I will be reading your site for ages. You can thank Guy Kawasaki because it was his Twitter about Fundraising on Alltop that led me to your blog and website.

    I think you will grow in followers because in this day and age, the compeition for donations is only going to become more difficult.

    You're right about value to the physicians. The hospital physician recruiters call every now and then to get more information about Wausau Whitewater. it is an attractor.

  4. Marc - great tips - especially #1. The best way to not get a gift is not to ask for it.

    I'd like to add #11 if I can. Realize that what you are doing is IMPORTANT, WORLD CHANGING work. Sasha Dichter does a great job of reminding us about this here:

  5. Thanks Steve. That is SO true!

  6. Great Blog Marc!

    I think you make some great points and agree to a certain extent. I think that smaller non- profit organizations will have to work harder to raise the same funds that they have in the past.

    The good news is that when the economy has an up turn. They will be sitting pretty with their new found Fundraising skills and new knowledge of recession proof fundraising.


    Mark South


  1. [...] The Fundraising Coach… Tips for Fundraising in a Recession Marc Pitman offers a detailed list of tips (some not so obvious) for fundraising during a recession [...]

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